Baked Ziti with Tossed Salad and Apple Crisp

by Kristin on September 28, 2009

Matt and I became unwitting Sopranos fans last summer, when our son was a newborn. Our next-door neighbors had the series on DVD and loaned it to us after we told them we’d never seen any episodes. We broke it out one night when I didn’t have the energy to do anything but collapse on the sofa and watch TV. We were quickly hooked, to the point where we would often watch two or three episodes a night. One of the scenes that sticks out from the series is when, in The Happy Wanderer episode, a gang of them lock themselves away in a motel room for the Executive Game, a marathon high-stakes poker-playing session, and keep referring to “boxes of ziti” instead of money (one box of ziti being $1,000). I remember it because even for a show that throws in some mobspeak at every opportunity, this just seemed too over the top to me — nobody would really say that, would they? William Safire wrote that the show’s dialogue is “one part Italian, a little real Mafia slang, and a smattering of lingo remembered or made up for the show by former residents of a blue-collar neighborhood in East Boston,” so who knows?

This is a slimmed-down version of traditional baked ziti, which can have up to three different cheeses and maybe even some sour cream thrown in for good measure. The pasta cooks right in the sauce, making it a quick and easy meal for weeknights, but with just enough cream and cheese to make it feel like a comfort food treat. But if you’re looking for Carmela’s recipe, there’s always The Sopranos Family Cookbook.

Baked Ziti
adapted from The Best Skillet Recipes by Cook’s Illustrated Magazine (recipe via Serious Eats)

Serves 4

If you don’t have an oven-safe skillet, just make the dinner in a regular pot or frying pan and transfer to a large ovenproof baking dish instead (which is what I did).

1 x 28-oz can (or 2 x 14-oz (400-g) cans) whole peeled tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups (720 ml) water
12 oz (340 g) ziti (or rigatoni or penne)
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
1 oz (30 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup (10 g) chopped fresh basil
4 oz (110 g) mozzarella, shredded

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Meanwhile, pour the whole can of tomatoes into a blender or food processor. Process until the tomatoes are roughly chopped, but not pureed.

Pour the oil into a large oven-safe skillet set over a medium-high heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for about 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add in the chopped tomatoes and season well with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour in the water, stir, and then add the pasta. Turn the heat back up to medium-high. Cook until the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes.

Add the cream, Parmesan, and basil. Stir well. Season with more salt and pepper, then sprinkle the mozzarella on top. Place the skillet in the oven and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and slightly browned.

***

Apple Crisp with Brandy-soaked Currants
adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson

Serves 6 to 8

For the apples, the authors recommend using Golden Delicious, Galas, Jonagolds, or another apple variety with a high water content. This recipe calls for soaking dried currants in brandy. The longer the currants steep, the more the flavor will be enhanced, so plan accordingly. If you forget to steep the currants, then leave them out because unsoaked currants will burn while cooking (I’m speaking from experience here).

for the brandy-soaked currants:
1/2 cup (70 g) dried currants (or raisins)
1/4 cup (60 ml) apple brandy (or regular brandy)

for the crisp topping:
3/4 cup packed (120 g) brown sugar
1 1/4 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg (optional)
pinch of ground cloves (optional)
1/2 cup (110 g) unsalted butter, melted

for the fruit filling:
8 large apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/2 inch thick (3 lb (1.4 kg) prepped)
1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
heavy cream, custard or vanilla ice cream, to serve

Soak the currants (or raisins) in the brandy for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter a 9-inch-square baking pan.

To make the crisp topping, mix the brown sugar, flour, salt, and spices together in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter, then press the topping together with your hands to form small clumps. Put the topping in the freezer while you make the filling.

To make the fruit filling, toss the apples, sugar and flour together in a bowl until evenly combined, then transfer to the prepared pan.

Scatter the currants and any residual brandy over the apples, then sprinkle the crips topping evenly over the fruit.

Bake for 50 minutes, or until the crisp is golden and the filling is bubbling up through the topping. Cool for 20 minutes before serving with a drizzle of heavy cream, warm custard or a scoop of ice cream.

This crisp is best served the day it’s made, but any leftovers can be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.

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